What I love about The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is that it’s uniquely familiar. It’s Romeo and Juliet in a way I’ve never seen before. And the amnesia coupled with a mixed up timeline create a mystery I want to know more about. Not only do I love Karou, I also want to know how she relates to Madrigal. And, what does that mean to the love story, but also to the battle between angels and chimaera? To learn how you can write a story like The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, you’ve come to the right place.
The first chapter sets up everything
I’ve mentioned before that knowing the first 7 sentences of your novel can be a lifesaver when you’re muddling through the long-slog of the middle build without a clue where you were going in the first place. But, it’s not just a lifeline connecting you to the elusive muse that started your story. Your first sentences, or chapter in this case, can set the stage for everything that’s to come. It can leave your audience wondering how you knew so much about your story from the very beginning. And, it can leave them in awe of your skills as a writer.
At least that’s what the first chapter of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone does for me.
Within the first chapter, Taylor mentions teeth, sets up Karou’s love story as well as the fact that she’s not fully whole, and even mentions the Nazi occupations which sets up the war elements that come in later books. I get a sense for who Karou is. I empathize with her broken heart and dumb decisions. She’s believable, a living thing inside by mind and beyond the page. Taylor sets up the place and time the story takes place, but even hints that this won’t be an ordinary humdrum story. All within the first few pages.
If that’s not masterful, I don’t know what is.
Couple that to the non-linear timeline
Another key skill that can be insanely difficult to pull off comes in Taylor’s structure. Her novel reads in a different order than when the events took place. Not only did she have to know everything that happened and how it was important to future events. But, she had to consciously decide what the reader needed to know and in what order to keep them reading.
Not an easy feat.
Too much, too early, and you ruin the mystery. Too little, and they won’t have a reason to keep reading. Not only that, but Karou and Madrigal’s stories are so interesting in and of themselves that finding out how they connect (and having it be so unique), makes it inevitable, but so satisfying.
Reincarnation, chimaera, angels. Oh, my.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. You have any number of them throughout a day. The trick is deciding which ones to keep and act on and which to let go for someone else. Taylor mentions that her process is to have notebooks upon notebooks filled with backstories and asking what if questions. She holds an idea in her mind until others stick to it. And, she takes those ideas and asks herself what they would look like in story form.
That said, she understands what makes a story work, whether consciously or not. She knows how to hook a reader, build tension, and payoff her stories so that you keep coming back for more. Reading her work is a lesson in not only how to write a beautiful sentence, but how to figure your story out in a way that has never been done before. So that your story feels uniquely familiar.
What can you do?
Whether you want to write a love story, a fantasy, YA, or something completely different there are many takeaway lessons to be learned from this novel. The first is to keep coming up with ideas until you have something that can sustain a story. Don’t run to your computer at the first inkling of a vague character or adventure hoping to write something people will read for years to come. Ask yourself “what if” until the words no longer sound real in your head.
Next, take your characters, genre, controlling idea, and whatever else you have come up with and put it through your unique writing process. No one else can tell you how to write a novel. You must discover that for yourself. Do you write huge chunks at a time by forcing yourself in a chair until you can’t see straight? Or, do you write 5 minutes here and there when you have a break from the everyday hustle? Whatever you do to make it work, make it work. Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t feel right. Keep going back to your what if and story ideas until the story feels complete.
Revise. Rewrite. Keep working until there is absolutely nothing else you can do to make the story work. And be honest with yourself about this. Especially if it’s your first novel. If you can’t critically look at your work, don’t expect others to be willing to give you real advice about it. Only when you can’t see a single thing to fix should you take it to an editor. If you need advice, let me know.
For now, don’t stop writing. And let me know if there’s a book you’d like to see analyzed on my blog.